According to uwwcost.uww.edu, college students at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater pay about $6,700 to attend per semester. Of that amount, about 25 percent of it are loans that will have to be paid off according to finaid.org. An additional semester’s loans could mean more years the alumni require in order to pay off those loans. Students cannot afford to attend college for an additional year, but the discrepancy between intended graduation date and actual graduation date is making additional college costs a more frequent occurrence.
In a study done by The College Board Annual Survey of Colleges, on average at a 4-year public college in the 2004-05 academic school year, students in Wisconsin payed an average of $6,312 for tuition. That amount of money adjusted for inflation numbers in 2012, which is the most recent year data was available, is $7,589.
On the other hand in the 2011-12 academic school year, on average at a public 4-year school, students in Wisconsin payed an average of $8,690 for tuition. From the 2004-05 to the 2011-12 school year, tuition increased 23 percent. Even adjusted for inflation, the amount of money a college student had to pay in 2004-05 was more than $1,100 less than they had to pay in 2011-12. In one student’s case, that additional $1,100 amounted to large bank loan interest, which coincidentally set back his life goals and career in the process. This additional $1,100 does not seem to be that much of an additional charge considering most college students will accumulate upwards of $10,000 of debt for an undergraduate degree. However, the interest rate on a loan can be the difference between paying off $10,000 of debt and $20,000 of debt.
According to finaid.org, a financial aid informational website, the average 2004-05 interest rate for college loans was 3.37 percent. In comparison, the average interest rate for 2010-11, the most recent date that data was available, the average interest rate was 4.5 percent. With an average 5-year loan period, a college student’s monthly payments on a 2011-12 loan of $8,690 will be about $50 more than the payments of the equal time period 2004-05 loan, with the 1.13 percent loan discrepancy. This calculation is for one semester; to put the total amount the average student would have to pay for an additional semester, the total for all of their semesters would have to be taken into account.
If an undergraduate in 2012 paid about $50 more per semester than an undergraduate in 2004, for each respective semester’s loans, the student would pay about $450 more because of increased interest rates on loans that were required to pay for increased tuition. This estimate took into account eight standard semesters at a 4-year public college, plus the additional semester that most students have to stay because the classes they need to graduate are not offered or are full when they need to take that given class, resulting in some students requiring only needing one or two classes in an additional semester to graduate.
In one example, Zacary Sanders found a new life at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. As a transfer student, he found that he was paying “too much” at his old university. “I attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and I’ve never felt so lost in my life,” Sanders said. “I felt too unimportant, and I think that’s something that shouldn’t happen for the money I’m paying.” The Sanders are a family of four; the family lives in Hartland, Wis., and both his mom and dad have college educations. However, the money his parents paid for tuition at public universities in Wisconsin was small compared to what Sanders is paying now, “My mom and dad payed 400 dollars for tuition when they went to school, now that’s what I spend on food in like three months.”
The extra semester Sanders has to stay stems from his credits that did not transfer from UW-Madison, and therefore, were essentially wasted money on top of his extra semester’s tuition. “I’ll end up paying like an additional 1,500 dollars because of the credits I lost in the transfer and the additional semester have to stay because of it,” Sanders said. “I’m not sure what my interest rates on my loans are, but I can’t imagine myself being done with payments until I’m in my early 30s.”
Sanders’ problem is not a rarity; even though Kirsten Zimmer is not a transfer student, she still must stay an additional semester at UW-Whitewater. Her fine arts major and advertising minor caused some course scheduling struggles. As with many students, once they reach the highest level of intended courses, scheduling options become few and difficult to arrange. “I needed an art class, but it only met once a week, for a few hours on Monday nights,” Zimmer said. “The final class I needed for my advertising minor was also at the same time.” Scheduling conflicts among majors and minors are often what contribute to students staying an additional semester. They cannot always be avoided.
Department Chair Kim Hixson said most professors teach multiple classes, and that their individual schedules don’t allow for multiple sessions of a given class. In addition, “Once students find themselves at the end of their major, they often are among only a handful of other students of the same degree progression,” Hixson said. “There simply aren’t enough students to fill multiple class sections in the higher courses.”
Zimmer also ran into a career problem as a result of her having to stay another semester. “I was offered an internship for the fall of next year, but I had to turn it down,” Zimmer said. “I missed out on this great career opportunity because of scheduling conflicts with my major and minor.” Zimmer was offered an internship with Cramer-Krasselt Advertising Agency, but had to turn it down.
While the financial burdens weren’t the most significant statistic that set back college students in an additional semester, they were enough to keep one student from attending his “final semester.” Kirk Thommesen lives at home with his single mother. He commutes to and from school twice a week and he works a full-time job on top of his course load. “Personally, the financial setback of affording another semester has made me question if I was ever ‘intended’ to graduate on time,” Thommesen said. “Because of [staying another semester], I’ve had to try to get more hours at work, and it’s just a bad situation career-wise.” Thommesen believes the minor setback will prove to be a large obstacle in his career aspirations.
In a survey conducted on surveymonkey.com, 37 out of 50 undergraduates polled at UW-Whitewater thought that staying an additional semester past their “intended” graduation date would set them back among their fellow graduates. “Many students believe that staying another semester past their intended graduation date is a bad thing, but that’s just not the case,” Hixson said. “I’ve found that students who come back later as alumni and have been through [staying an extra semester] had more career opportunities. Places like the Wisconsin Newspaper Association offer internships and part-time jobs all year ‘round. Students need not worry about finding opportunities in both academic semesters.”
In the spring semester of 2013, WNA had posted on their website more than a dozen internship opportunities. In one case, for the TMJ4 News Spring Internship position, internship coordinator Stephanie Graham said the program had the most applicants in more than five years. The program had so many applicants that contrary to previous years, Graham was not able to individually interview each applicant. Her and her team had to individually pre-screen each applicant, and then have a secondary interview process.
Academic adviser Kathy Brady spoke to the stigma of staying another semester, “Students have even more of an opportunity to get a job if they graduate mid-academic year,” Brady said. “They are in essence beating the rush of new graduates who enter the job market every May or June. By graduating in the winter, students avoid as competitive of a job market as those who graduate in the spring.”
Brady said that students who stay another semester will have financial problems depending on how far along they are in their academic careers. “Students often come to me and ask, ‘what’s this going to cost me?’ or ‘can I avoid this?’ and in many cases the answer is no,” Brady said. “Once they’ve gotten as far as having to take another semester, whether it is for one credit or 12, there’s really no avoiding it.” Brady stressed that each student’s case is different, but she expressed that a student in that situation should expect to pay just as much as their previous semesters. However, in the case that financial aid or loans will not be at such a ready-available quantity, students could pay upwards of 50 percent more for an additional semester in the most extreme cases.
In one such case, UW-Whitewater senior Drew Craugh had trouble funding his final semester of college. Craugh comes from Belmont, Wis., where farms are plentiful and college educations are scarce. “Yeah, Belmont is average-sized, but most of the people live on farms and don’t have college educations,” Craugh said. “I suppose in my situation I’ve had a bit of a harder time trying to pay for college. Both of my parents work and I’ve had to pay my way through college. I took two years off after high school to save money because I knew I wasn’t going to get much from financial aid.”
Craugh eventually was one semester away from graduating, but he found a problem in his advising report. He found that he’d have to stay an additional semester for only six credits. “I looked at my advising report and I literally almost cried,” Craugh said. “I didn’t know how it had happened, but I guess scheduling conflicts had piled up to the point that I had to stay for only two more classes.” In which case, Craugh had not anticipated that he would have to stay another semester. The hardest part was telling his dad. “I remember the look on his face, he didn’t know whether to cry or be angry,” Craugh said.
Mark Craugh, Drew’s father, thought his son was telling him he was never going to graduate from college. “Once I realized what he was telling me, I was fine with it,” Mark Craugh said. “At that point, I just wanted him to find a way to pay for it. He’s a responsible kid, and I knew that he’d find a way.” Mark Craugh knew his son would find a way to pay for the rest of his college education because Drew had worked for his father’s construction team since he was in high school. “We just had odd jobs here and there, but he was reliable, responsible, and hard-working,” Mark Craugh said.
Drew took off for another year after his “senior” year of college. He worked in Belmont at odd jobs here and there, from Wal-Mart to working with his father again, Drew never lost sight of his undergraduate degree. “I’m really proud of him, even if he has to stay another semester,” Mark Craugh said. “Besides, I enjoy having him home, and he’s saving up good money working again.”
Aside from the time spent at home, Drew tirelessly looked for jobs or internships in his field that he could apply for once he earned his college degree. “I was up almost every night that year I was out of school and working at home,” Drew Craugh said. “It forced me to take opportunity more seriously.” Once that year was done and Drew earned enough money to attend college again, he had to wait even longer because certain classes he needed were not offered in the semester that was coming up.
Drew Craugh finally came back to UW-Whitewater in the spring semester of 2013. His education was paid for with the hard work accumulated during the previous year. In spite of being required to stay another semester for only two classes, Craugh earned valuable experience during his hiatus that helped him earn a job before graduation. “The experience I got from my construction job during the summer helped me network with this architecture firm I learned about through people at the construction job,” Drew Craugh said. “I just never knew at the beginning of this whole problem that I’d be better off after it.”
Craugh’s case is extreme because he found a job that helped him in his field of interest. However, what is often the case is that people are more apt to think negatively about taking time off from school and finding a job to earn some money to pay for their education. Of 50 students polled on surveymonkey.com, only 22 had jobs while they attended school. Less than half of the students had a way to set-off their tuition, dining, and housing costs while they attended school. The growing trend is that students rely on a summer job or financial aid money to pay the bills. This can be a problem when, like in Craugh’s case, students unexpectedly stay another semester and have to find additional funds to pay for it.
Increased interest rates, scheduling conflicts and career opportunities can hinder a student from graduating on-time; however, the stigma that staying another semester is overly bearing on a student’s financial situation or will cause an individual to miss a career opportunity is not true. If anything, students who graduate mid-academic year have less of a competitive pool of graduates to compete with for a job. In addition, the financial burden of staying another semester is often not as severe as advertised and the remedy can often be found in forgoing a year to earn money or taking out additional loans. Whatever the case, the discrepancy between intended and actual graduation date in not a hindrance to success.